I wasn’t sleeping well, which was giving the world an unreal quality. Tanifas was threatening to have Akminchaer dose me if things didn’t improve after the wedding. Gan and Fara slept with me every night now and I mostly lay awake between them or on one side and the questions fled through my mind over and over and over. What if I wasn’t ready? What if I hadn’t learned enough? What if I was too severe on myself? What if I wasn’t severe enough on myself? What if I was too much my father’s son? What if I slipped and made mistakes? What if, what if, what if? The Gods weren’t speaking to me except in increasingly bizarre dreams.
What if I weren’t a good enough husband for Kyriala? What if I still was too damaged? What if I were too nervous in bed? What if I couldn’t engender children? I’d have to confess to Assembly and step down as Imperator... and she’d be in her right to divorce me, with the new laws. My life would be ruined. Her life might be hurt. Ili... would he be voted in?
What if all this was just too good? What if I was supposed to suffer to pay for my sins? What if the Gods decided I just wasn’t good enough? The Ten Tens could be a disaster. I knew all the ways I could just be erased. Smashed flat, melted, eviscerated, bled to death, burned, skewered, poisoned, vapourized by liquid glass, rape-impaled... well. Ky would be a proper widow then. Even with the new laws people still tended to treat widows better than divorcees. My sleep wasn’t good.
Sukala was having a marvelous time. Everything was beautiful even if overdone and she loved speaking with everyone, the elite warriors and the Fenjitzae and Klaimera. There was a lot of religious talk that just went over my head. Kallijas just smiled and told me I might understand it one day. Mud at a wall, he said. Sometimes things would stick, I shouldn’t worry about it. Of course. I shouldn’t worry about it. I shouldn’t worry about anything! Easy for him to say.
My guts were in knots and I was spitting blood quietly into handkerchiefs. Ky looked serene as always and had encouraging smiles for me in all the formal pre-wedding dinners and fetes where the most I could touch her was my comb to her fan, in public. Then she went into the eight-day seclusion before our wedding and I couldn't see her at all.
The winds were good and Che-- Virani-e and his Yeolis arrived on Anae 33. He hugged me solid and I thought my grin would split my head all the way around. I was suddenly eleven again and wrapped by the first hug from a man who wasn’t afraid of me. The whole world was reduced to being enfolded by the one person I could always count on. Throughout everything I’ve lived through, the one person I could trust implicitly.
Jitzmitthra this year started with singing tension hidden under everyone’s drab cloak and when Kallijas turned the cup upside down, extravagantly poured red wine all over everything and flung off his own cloak to reveal his magnificent fire-dragon costume, wings unfurling as they were set to be pulled open by his action, the crowd went mad. Red and gold and blued silver scales glittered as his tail unrolled with his wings. He set the crystal-fanged head-dress on his head and a jet of fire... the same kind of flame that burned white in the fire-fountains jetted out of the snout into the sky as he looked up. He’d had to practice to make sure he didn’t accidentally set anything or anyone around him on fire. He could make it jet three times before there wasn’t any more fuel.
The crowd flung their cloaks into the air, filling the square with noise and cloth. It was one of the most exuberant roars for the start of Jitz I’d ever heard. My own costume was a mythical metal bird from the ancients with bulbous glass eyes. I’d had to learn to walk on stilts to show off the glass and bone legs. Idiesas liked it because it raised me up out of arm’s reach, made it easy for him to keep track of where I was, and armoured me well enough against darts or even arrow fire. He was worried about such things as he must be with the Unomas still uncaught.
Skorsas had brought costumes for Chevenga that showed off his physique for every day, he’d confided. “The more naked I get him, the more spectacular he is.” Such a surprise. The first day was a crystal dragon with blue and green colouring along with the clear to match Kallijas’s fire-dragon, but the head-dress shot blue wine instead of fire. He had to be naked inside it and the glass scales made him a bit ripply and somewhat covered but only somewhat.
I had to just gape in awe at the duel -- with costume swords shaped like claws -- that they staged in Presentation Square and the Fire Fountains. Dragons fighting in the city. It was dreamlike glowing through the fog, Kallijas’s fire glowing and Virani-e dousing him with wine. Virani-e hit one of Kallijas’s wings and he struck upwards as he sprawled on his back, they mimed a simultaneous kill, flaring fire and wine as they collapsed to the stone; before rising to an enormous roar of applause and acclaim and retiring to have costumes repaired and replenished.
I was tired enough to sleep part of the night before my birthday. My third threshold. But I had a nightmare that woke me early. I crept quietly into a cascade cabinet to wash myself clean and sat down for my backwards birthday dinner for breakfast. I took part in the food fight, and managed to eat something... but I was very glad of the most simple of cottons to wear. I wore a sash to support my middle and managed to keep a little food and some ginger water in my stomach.
Ili’s birthday present was amazing. The flying piglets were so funny. And they did poop while flying so at one point things got pretty messy. I lay back in my chair with him grinning at me, and I just howled with laughter, keeping one eye open to make sure none of them were straight overhead while my mouth was open. He’d bought a boar and two sows... the big pigs couldn’t fly any more. They were too big. The boar was ridiculous with his enormous bulk of meat and tiny... in proportion... wings... they had two sets of shoulders and the big pigs loved having those shoulders scratched as the shoats flew in the gilded rafters of the Cerulean Presentation Hall, which fortunately was not carpeted.
The next day I hid all day in my rooms, trying to settle my head for my wedding. Breakfast was a bowl of cool porridge, that was all I could manage.
I did go out to The Most Circuitous of Paths fountain in the middle of the day, needing to cool off. One always got damp, since the walls of water misted everything. They were too thick to see through inside two turns, and the sound of the splashing drowned out any conversation beyond arm's reach. The centre was designed to be blurred and hard to see from the high guard posts. Enough to protect but still keep the State's secrets.
As I rounded the last turn I was confronted with a pair of Marble Palace servants... at least I assumed that the naked, fikking pair in the middle were servants, from the scattered livery. They froze and all I saw were their round faces. It was Jitzmitthra. But the boys yelped all the same, startled into more normal behaviour, scrambled apart, grabbed their clothing and fled through the fountain. They scattered water and apologies in their bare-assed wake, wet hair flapping against their fleeing buttocks.
I had to laugh and sat down on the one dry bench in the middle of the rushing water. I wanted to tell them it was all right but they were long gone.